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“127 Hours” and other films by Danny Boyle

November 29, 2010

By John C.

 

In 2003, a falling boulder pinned Aron Ralston’s arm to the wall of a crevice when exploring Blue John canyon in Utah.  He was literally trapped, as his autobiography’s title suggests, between a rock and a hard place.  Ralston remained alone for over 5 days, before amputating his own arm to save his life.  In 127 Hours, award-winning director Danny Boyle has brilliantly adapted Ralston’s amazing life story for the screen, and the results are thoroughly gripping.

 

With striking visuals, raw emotion, and undeniable power, 127 Hours comes highly recommended, but sensitive viewers should take precaution before seeing it.  The film has been in limited release since November 12th.

 

Ralston’s story is as terrifying as it is inspiring, and it takes a filmmaker of Danny Boyle’s calibre to properly handle the material.  Those familiar with Boyle’s work will recognize his choice to tell the story with split screens, quick cuts and close attention to small, but equally important details.  Frequent collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle provides the impressive cinematography, adding to the kinetic sense of suspense.

 

Danny Boyle has been a known force on the filmmaking scene since the iconic Trainspotting in the mid-’90’s.  But it was only in 2008, when he took home the Academy Award for Best Picture with the excellent Slumdog Millionaire, that he fully burst into the eye of the public.  Perhaps his most popular work, the film played as an inspirational crowd pleaser to the majority of audiences.  In the end, 127 Hours is just as thought-provoking and uplifting, but the road getting there is much more grueling.

 

The little-known 2005 film Millions made me more personally take note of his work, and still remains in my mind one of Boyle’s greatest achievements.  Based on Frank Cottrell Boyce’s equally great novel of the same name, it tells the story of two brothers in England who find a bag of soon to be obsolete money near the train track.  It’s a brilliant and touching film that philosophically questions the effect money has on our society, and like Slumdog, it’s also centred entirely around performances of unknown actors.

 

At the heart of 127 Hours is a performance from James Franco that ranks as one of the best in recent memory, displaying the emotional and physical struggle brilliantly.  What makes the film play as equal parts inspiring and disturbing is the fact that Ralston actually got to the point in his situation where he was emotionally able to amputate his own arm.  As the credits roll you will ask yourself if you would take the same actions to remain alive, and answering ‘yes’ is obvious, but not easy.

 

At certain screenings, the amputation scene has caused audience members to pass out, and it is one of the most intense things I’ve seen on-screen all year.  Although Boyle shows it with graphic realism, it’s also done tastefully, and plays off of emotion rather than exploitation.  The heart wrenching sequence of self-surgery will elicit cringes in the majority of moviegoers, but the rewards are plentiful if you can handle the subject.

 

The final few scenes that follow will be remembered as one of those great movie moments, reminiscent of George Baily’s run through Bedford Falls at the end of It’s a Wonderful.  As the film’s tagline reads, “there is no force more powerful than the will to live.”  Like the best of Boyle’s other work, 127 Hours is a moving and electric hymn to life, specifically how far we’ll go to remain alive.

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